A tiny house in Motueka has become the centre of a big row between its owner and the local council.
For the past three months panelbeater Nick Hughes has been in a dispute with the Tasman District Council about the legal status of his movable “tiny house”.
Hughes says its a vehicle no different from a caravan, but the council say its a building – and as such is subject to a building consent.
The trouble began almost immediately after Hughes had the 8.5 x 3.1m Eco Cottage moved to his property on the outskirts of Motueka at the end of June.
Hughes said while the cottage had been equipped with a full chassis, wheels, and tyres – the wheels had been taken off the cottage for the trip and had been temporarily left behind in Christchurch.
However, it took less than two days before his new acquisition came under scrutiny after a visit from the Tasman District Council, following a complaint made on April 26.
A notification from council informed Hughes that as the cottage had no wheels and appeared to be resting on piles, it was considered by council as a building and would need to be given a retrospective building consent.
“I tried to explain to them that they were left behind from the pilot vehicle – I advised the council they’d be there the next Tuesday,” Hughes said.
“I didn’t see it being a problem, but they weren’t interested in what I had to say.”
Since then, Hughes and the council have been going back and forth to try and resolve what the legal status of the tiny house is.
When the wheels arrived, council told Hughes the cottage was still considered a building, because it didn’t have a current warrant of fitness and was set up on piles.
Hughes said this was not the case, with no foundation work done to set up any piles.
“I spent three months proving that what was underneath the eco-cottage caravan was just levelling blocks, just like any large caravan uses.”
Under the Building Act, a vehicle has to be considered both immovable and occupied by people on a long-term basis to be considered a building.
Aspects of the Tasman Regional Management Plan have complicated the situation further. In the plan, a tiny house that has been lived in for more than two months of the year is likely to be viewed as a building anyway.
Hughes said in the past week he had a new staff member assigned to look into his situation, but may have to go to the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) to seek a formal decision on the matter.
Tasman District Council spokesman Chris Choat said they had met with Hughes as recently as Friday, and were continuing to work with him to resolve the situation.
Choat said council had been obligated to investigate when a member of the community had informed them of Hughes’ construction plans in April.
“We understand his aspirations, but as a regulatory authority we have to ensure the structure meets a number of standards (under the Building Act).”
Similar issues over the legal status of tiny homes have popped up elsewhere in New Zealand.
Amberley resident Allan Dell is seeking to overturn a decision by MBIE which ruled the home-made caravan he was living in, was a building according to the Building Act.
Hughes has also brought his dilemma to Motueka Community Board chairman and Tasman mayoral candidate Brent Maru.
Maru said he had met with Hughes and understood the frustrations and challenges he faced.
“We all know of people who have buses and baches and caravans on their property, and we tend to turn a blind eye to that”, Maru said.
“Unfortunately when people like Nick come to the attention of council, we’re stuck with these tight regulations and processes – so it doesn’t seem right.”
Maru said he hoped there would be a way forward to make the legal status of tiny homes clearer.
‘We’re constantly told about becoming more resilient, adapting to change, and coming up with innovative solutions.
“Tiny homes provide innovative and adaptive changes in terms of housing opportunities for people in our communities.”